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Mexican children take up arms in fight against drug gangs

With baseball caps and scarves covering their faces,
only their serious eyes are visible as a dozen children stand to
attention, rifles by their side.

Children in Ayahualtempa train with rifles or makeshift guns to join the fight against drug cartels 

In the heart of the violence-plagued Mexican state of Guerrero, learning to use weapons starts at an early age.

In the village of Ayahualtempa, at the foot of
a wooded hill, the basketball court serves as a training ground for
these youths, aged between five and 15.

The children practice with rifles and handguns or makeshift weapons in various drill positions for a few hours every week.

"Position three!" yells instructor Bernardino
Sanchez, a member of the militia responsible for the security of 16
villages in the Guerrero area, which goes by the name of Regional
Coordinator of Community Authorities (CRAC-PF).

They must defend themselves'

The situation has become so untenable for the
inhabitants of the region that parents have agreed to let their children
join the militia.

"I wanted to study, but since the school is
close to the area where Los Ardillos operates, I preferred the community
police ... They were about to capture me," said 13-year-old Gustavo.
The boy said he "feels good" holding his .22 caliber shotgun and already knows how to use and clean it.
Gustavo's father Luis has been a member of the militia for three years.
His other son, Gerardo, 15, is also learning to "defend himself and his family," he said during training.
"The children decided to support us," said
Luis, who recalls the day when his two children told him they wanted to
arm themselves and leave school.

The children train for a few hours every week under the supervision of a militia member

Luis, who said he went to "great lengths" to buy
hunting rifles for his children and his own weapon, believes the danger
is the same for the patrols as for municipal police who go to school
"unarmed, defenseless" at the mercy of drug traffickers.

The children train in various shooting positions for two hours a week.
The idea is that they also learn to fend for themselves "in case they are orphaned," Luis said seriously.
All of them wear olive green militia T-shirts that are far too large for some of the younger recruits.
"My children now have more courage than fear.
They know how to handle their weapons. When armed groups force their way
into a community, they must stand up and defend themselves," Luis
Guerrero governor Hector Astudillo on Friday made his first appearance in the region since taking office four years ago.
He took the opportunity to criticize the training of children and negotiate with the militia over lifting roadblocks.
Many children "have lost their parents," said
Bernardino, who does not want to see others traumatized by the murder of
their loved ones.

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